After a rough patch there for the better part of the last 2 weeks, it looks like the Yankees’ injury fortune may be changing for the better. They could get Carlos Beltran back by the end of this week, maybe Shawn Kelley next week, and Francisco Cervelli has been playing in ExST games. Michael Pineda‘s latest setback wasn’t the worst case scenario, so there’s still hope that he can come back and help at some point, and Mark Teixeira returned from his latest bout of wrist inflammation to go 2-5 with a HR and be the only player in the lineup responsible for driving in runs last night. Everybody (knock on wood) seems to be coming around nicely.
Except for CC Sabathia. On the DL since May 12th, Sabathia has just graduated to… walking on a “low impact” treadmill this week 3 weeks after receiving a cortisone/stem cell injection in his degenerative right knee. The plan is for him to play catch later this week, which would mark the first real baseball activity he’s done since going on the DL. Most of Sabathia’s time over the last 3+ weeks has been spent on crutches and off his feet. Considering that, and all that other factors in play with this injury, it might be time to seriously consider the possibility the CC Sabathia is done as a Major League starting pitcher.
And I don’t mean “done” in the sense that he might not ever pitch again or at least not be pitching much longer because of the problems in his knee. He has plenty of financial incentive to stick around for as long as he can. I mean “done” in the sense that he’ll continue to pitch like he has been for the remainder of his career and basically be a 4th/5th starter for the remainder of his contract.
The word “degenerative” is not one you ever want to hear in connection with your joints, especially when you’re a left-handed pitcher who’s been hurling all of your 275-300+ pound weight onto that one particular joint on every pitch you’ve thrown for the last 13+ seasons. Sabathia’s already had his right meniscus torn and repaired twice, THE Dr. James Andrews recommended and performed the admittedly experimental stem cell injection as soon as he got the chance to evaluate CC’s knee on May 15th, and while the team has said they’re “optimistic” that they will get CC back in July as a result of this procedure, they’re also acknowledging that the procedure and recovery timetable are major unknowns. Keep in mind that the team also said they were “optimistic” that they’d get CC back in the minimum 15 days when he first went on the DL.
I read something the other day about CC talking to Amar’e Stoudemire of the Knicks about the stem cell procedure and how Amar’e’s knee felt afterwards. That’s not good. I don’t know if everybody here is a basketball or Knicks fan or not, but Amar’e Stoudemire absolutely sucks now and he has ever since he started having knee problems. They guy can barely move or jump out on the basketball court. He’s a withered, lifeless husk of the player he used to be, so if he’s being name dropped by CC as a source of encouraging information or high expectations, I’m not taking that as a positive sign at all. Normally I’d say that playing basketball is more stressful on the knees than being a Major League pitcher to make myself feel better. But again, when we’re talking about a guy with the 2 surgeries and the degeneration and the big hefty body, I don’t know if I can.
Which brings us back to the contract portion of this conundrum. CC is in the 3rd year of the 5-year/$122 million extension he signed after 2011. He’s owed about $15 million more for the rest of this season and then $48 million over the next 2 guaranteed seasons through 2016. He also has a $25 million option for 2017 that automatically vests if he passes a bunch of shoulder injury-related criteria and has a $5 mil buyout attached to it if it doesn’t. All in all, the Yankees are on the hook for about $68 million over the next 2.75 seasons. That’s a ton of reasons for CC to try to stick around and pitch through this condition for as long as he can and I’m sure that’s why he opted for this injection procedure almost immediately. To me, it doesn’t look like he’s trying to get back to being the pitcher he was. That’s not how the injections worked for Amar’e and it’s already a fact that CC wasn’t ever going to be the pitcher he was regardless of the condition of his right knee. To me, it’s as if CC is just trying to extend his career for as long as he can.
If that’s the case, then the Yankees could be in a tough spot with their rotation for the next few seasons. They’re going to wave goodbye to Hirok after this year, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda are bigger question marks than ever because of their respective injury problems, and there’s not much coming up from the system next year behind the Phelpses and Nunos of the world. The Yankees are going to have to spend to upgrade the rotation again if all they have is Tanaka and a hobbled, degenerative-kneed CC around, and CC’s heavy price tag could hamper some of that spending. I know Hal threw a lot of money around this past offseason to improve key parts of the team. I also know that he tried to address as many positions on the cheap as he did last offseason, so I’m not holding my breath on the possibility of him going all in on Max Scherzer and Justin Masterson (or whoever you prefer).
The best thing for the Yankees if they want to upgrade their rotation again would probably be for CC to be forced to retire because of his knee. There’s not much reason for him to do that as long as he can keep playing, however, and I certainly can’t blame the guy for doing whatever he feels he has to do to keep himself on the field. I’m not expecting much from him from here on out, and I’d be willing to bet there are a few folks in the front office who would agree with me if you got them off the record. The Yankees bet on CC staying healthy when they signed him to that extension a few years ago and that’s a bet they lost on big time. The question now becomes how much they’re willing to bet next time when they’re still feeling the effects of the last bad one.